In Singapore’s increasingly tight labour market, how can local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) better attract and keep employees?

One of the biggest human resource (HR) challenges faced by companies in Singapore is the limited pool of local, highly-skilled staff, many of whom prefer to work with multinational companies (MNCs) rather than SMEs. In fact, 20 percent of SMEs note this as their main pain point, according to the Singapore Business Federation’s National Business Survey 2017/2018.

It’s no secret that SMEs require a pool of skilled talent to develop and execute innovative strategies so that the company can continue growing. Here’s how SMEs can attract new talent and develop the potential of existing staff.

  1. Put in Place a Career Development Plan

A career development plan is a win-win situation for employers and employees. Show your staff that your company also cares for their professional growth as well. If staff feel that you genuinely care about their future, they will be motivated to work for your company.

A development plan should focus on employees’ growth and progression both professionally and personally. Heads of departments should meet up with each of their staff regularly to discuss his or her career development hopes and plans, for example, how they would like to see their career progress and what they require such as job shadowing, mentoring or training of particular skills.

The plan should include a list of goals and dates they should be achieved by. Once this plan is laid out and signed off by both the employee and the manager, it should be handed over to the HR department so that there is a record which can be reviewed at a later stage — depending on your company policy, you can review this quarterly or over a six-month period. Here’s an example of a career development plan.

Related: How to attract and engage the digital candidate – Part 1

Atlas Sound & Vision, a local SME retailer of premium audio and visual products, has a career development plan that takes a three-pronged approach:

  • Core — an in-house training course that defines the service culture of their employees
  • Gap — where employees are sent for technical/functional courses to close competency gaps during their course of work
  • Individual Development — helping employees achieve their aspirations, for example, through scholarships and professional certificates

Elaborating on this strategy, Michael Tien, CEO of the company, says that by investing in their employees, staff become ambassadors who are genuinely enthused when speaking to others about the company.

As part of the company’s career development plan, staff are also encouraged to take on various roles and functions. For example, Customer Relations Officers become Marketing Executives and a Sales Advocate has become a Corporate Partnership Manager.

  1. Ensure Continual Training

SMEs can encourage self-organised groups within their different teams to share new skills such as search engine optimisation or pool information on new tech solutions in the marketplace. Companies can also encourage their staff to sign up for conferences, workshops and seminars — there are programmes that SMEs can tap when sending their employees for training and skills upgrading.

Singapore SMEs can look into Workforce Singapore’s P-Max programme to better recruit, train, manage and retain professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs). Companies that sign up for this programme can enjoy up to 90 percent funding support from WSG.

Richard (not his real name), the director of a local pest control company, says he’s always happy to send staff for training if needed. For example, pest technicians who show interest in progressing in their career are sent for supervisory courses. In addition, those in executive management are sent for training to address any skills gap they might have so that they can reach their full potential in their position. For instance, one executive management team member was strong in strategic thinking but struggled with accounting, so he was sent for a course on accounting.

In addition, there are weekly training sessions held in-house for technicians on Thursday nights, carried out in batches of eight to 10. This is a platform for the technical team to engage in role-playing to simulate real-life situations, something that’s important when they go out into the field. The sessions are also a means to ensure all technicians have the latest industry updates.

  1. Encourage Mentoring and Continued Support for New Hires

Many SMEs may not have a formal mentorship programme, but that does not mean that the individual employee cannot learn new things by shadowing a colleague or mentor from within the company to learn from their experience.

Richard says that his company takes mentoring of new staff very seriously. He shares that when he first took over the company 20 years ago, new technical staff were given a two-hour induction and then sent into the field expecting them to get the hang of everything they had just learnt. Richard changed this procedure once he came on-board. Now, new staff have to undergo one week of training for each of the core modules on rodents, mosquitoes, termites and general pests. This means that the minimum amount of training for a new pest technician is one month, though Richard says that some may take two to three months to get the hang of everything. Each module consists of web-based theory in the morning and shadowing other pest technicians or supervisors in the afternoon. Shadowing is undertaken with a different partner each time so that the new technician can learn different styles of approaches to the job. At the end of the induction programme the technician is then appraised by a Quality and Control executive. Only if he passes this appraisal is he then allowed to go into the field alone. While the length of the induction might sound tough for outsiders, Richard says it has really helped new technical staff transition into their role.

Many SMEs may not have a formal mentorship programme, but that does not mean that the individual employee cannot learn new things by shadowing a colleague or mentor from within the company to learn from their experience.

SMEs should note that the P-Max initiative also helps support newly-hired PMETs to better acclimatise to the new SME work environment by providing training for supervisors and allowing new hires to attend relevant workshops. In addition, there is a post-training follow-up for up to six months.

  1. Create a Vibrant Work Culture

While SMEs might lack the resources and brand awareness that MNCs use to conduct mass recruitment drives, they can build on other offerings that will encourage new job entrants to join and keep existing staff motivated and happy.

One way to do this is by creating a culture that stands out — one that’s built around the company’s core values and mission, and which resonates with staff. Examples include instilling a warm, family-style team culture that has a strong focus on personal growth, ensuring open communication and feedback so that staff feel they are being listened to, encouraging mentorship and other career advancement opportunities, and offering unique employee benefits such as supporting remote working and flexible work hours.

Other approaches which are becoming more popular include offering a weekly treat such as serving a simple breakfast in the workplace, or exercise classes once a month. Such activities are generally well-liked by employees, especially fresh grads and millennials, and an SME can choose the frequency with which they are offered.For instance, at local hardware start-up Zimplistic, the manufacturer of Rotimatic, a machine that makes flatbread such as roti in two minutes, an in-house chef serves breakfast and snacks to the company’s employees, using the rotis made by their machines.

At Atlas Sound & Vision, get-togethers are held every month to celebrate staff birthdays and various team bonding events such as bowling are organised to help foster meaningful relationships outside work hours.

As a result of these activities, Atlas Sound & Vision’s management have found that staff are more easily able to interact and bond better with colleagues from other departments, which helps create an all-inclusive workplace. Staff retention has also improved, standing at 85 percent. “This is a testament to our work culture initiatives,” concludes Michael.

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References:

  • https://www.sbf.org.sg/images/2018/SBF-National-Business-Survey-2017-18_Infographics.pdf
  • https://justlogin.com/how-smes-attract-and-retain-talent/http://www.sgsme.sg/news/way-forward-smes-acquire-retain-talent-digital-age
  • https://www.uobgroup.com/business/inbusiness/article.html?id=4-ways-smes-can-win-the-talent-war-acquisition-against-mncshttp://www.sgsme.sg/resources/how-smes-can-draw-and-retain-young-tech-talent
  • https://www.thebalancecareers.com/steps-to-create-a-career-development-plan-1917798
  • https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/careers/professional-development